frequency distribution

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frequency distribution

[¦frē·kwən·sē ‚dis·trə′byü·shən]
A function which measures the relative frequency or probability that a variable can take on a set of values.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Frequency distributionclick for a larger image
Fig. 10 Frequency distribution.

frequency distribution

the number of times each value of a variable occurs in a set of observations.

A frequency-distribution table is a simple way of representing sociological observations. It consists of at least two columns: the left-hand one contains the values which a variable may take, and the right-hand one contains the number of times each value occurs. An additional right-hand column can also be included to show the percentage distribution. In Fig. 10 the number of male and female respondents to a questionnaire are shown. see also BAR CHART. HISTOGRAM. PIE CHART, which can also be used to represent distributions.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Frequency Distribution


a set of the various numerical values of some quantitative characteristic of the members of a population where an indication is given of the frequency of each value—that is, the size of the corresponding group of these members is indicated. A frequency distribution expresses the result of the grouping of the members of the population with respect to a single quantitative characteristic. If the values are ordered, that is, arranged according to increasing or decreasing magnitude, then the frequency distribution is said to be ranked.

A distinction is made between discrete and interval frequency distributions. A discrete frequency distribution is based on a discontinuously varying grouping characteristic; an example is the distribution of workers with respect to the number of machine tools operated. An interval, or grouped (that is, reduced to groups), frequency distribution is based on a continuously varying characteristic; an example of this type is the distribution of a group of people with respect to age. Frequency distributions can also be grouped in the case of a discrete characteristic if the range of this characteristic is sufficiently great—for example, the distribution of urban communities with respect to the number of residents.

The intervals of the grouping characteristic may be equal or unequal. If unequal, they usually increase progressively; this case arises when qualitatively different types of phenomena are being singled out. The sizes of the groups formed are indicated in the frequency distribution by absolute numbers, or frequencies; by relative numbers, or relative frequencies, which are usually percentages of the total; or by both, in two parallel columns. The ratios of the frequencies or relative frequencies to the sizes of the corresponding intervals are called the distribution density.

The importance of frequency distributions in statistics is great. A well-constructed frequency distribution makes possible a detailed analysis of the structure of the population with respect to a given characteristic. Thus, the groups into which the population breaks down can be determined. In addition, the nature of the distribution of the members of the population with respect to the given characteristic can be ascertained—for example, whether the distribution is symmetric or asymmetric or what the degree of concentration of the members is. Finally, various statistics can be calculated, such as the range of the characteristic (the absolute difference between the maximum and the minimum value), the average value of the characteristic, the deviations from the average value, the degree of skewness of the frequency distribution, and the measure of kurtosis (the degree of closeness of a cluster of values of the characteristic around the average value). For easy comprehension, a frequency distribution can be represented graphically in a rectangular coordinate system in the form of a frequency polygon, histogram, cumulative frequency polygon, or ogive. Various combinations of frequency distributions for a population can be presented in the form of statistical tables.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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